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Categories of offence and choice of court
- Summary offence- less serious offences always tried in the Magistrates Court, e.g. driving offences and common assault
- Triable-either-way (TEW) offences - middle-range offences which can vary in the degree of harm caused. Can be tried either in the Magistrates Court or in the Crown Court, e.g. theft and assualt the occasioning actual bodily harm
- Indictable offences - more serious crimes which must be tried in the crown court e.g. murder, manslaughter and rape
Process for deciding which court a triable-either way offence will be heard in?
- Plea before venue - if pleads guilty the case is automatically heard by the Magistrates Court but the option is retained of sending the defendant to the Crown Court if necessary for sentencing
- If the D pleads not guilty, a mode of trial procedure must take place to decide on the most appropriate court to try the case
- The Magistrates first consider whether they think the case is suitable for trial in the magistrate court. if they feel not they will transfer it to the Crown court. The defendant will have no choice
- If the magistrates feel prepared to accept jurisdiction of the defendant is given the choice of which court D wishes to be tried in
Why would a defendant chose trial in the Magistrates' Court?
- there are restrictions on the possible penalties - max fine of £5000 and max custostodial sentence of six months or twelve months for two or more TEW offences
- Faster then crown court, most courts dealt within less than on day
- Less publicity as these are seen as less serious crimes so journalists tend to spend their time at Crown court
- The court procedures is less daunting than Crown Court - less formal as there are no wigs and gowns used and no jury
Why would a defendant choose trial in the Crown Court
- Higher conviction rate in Magistrates Courts. the acquittal rate in the Crown Court is over 50% by only 20% in the Magistrate Court.
- Legal funding is likely in the Magistrates Court so the D may need to represent themselves which could be rather daunting
- If the defendant is remanded in custody, time served will count against sentence and the conditions are better on remand
- The benefits of using Magistrates Courts for TEW matters may be lost when at the end, the magistrates decide they lack sentencing powers and send the matter to the Crown Court for sentence
Should the D be able to choose?
- There has been much debate whether a defendant should have the choice and the choice has been limited by successive governments
- it is much to expensive to hold jury trials
- The government has limited trial by jury by reclassifying offences that were triable either way as summary e.g. taking a vehicle without consent
- The House of Lords has so far stopped governments attempts to abolish the D's rights to choose as it felt that the right to jury trial is too important as a safeguard of liberty
- Compromise has been made with cases that are felt too difficult for juries to understand e.g. fraud, or if a jury has already been tampered with. These no longer have a jury although they are tried in the Crown Court.
Defence appeals to the Crown Court
- defendant may appeal against conviction, sentence or both to the Crown Court if original plea was not guilty
- Defendant may only appeal against sentence if original plea was guilty
- No need to leave (permission_ - there is an automatic right of appeal
- The case will be completely re-heard by a judge and two magistrates
- They may confirm conviction, reverse the decision and acquit the defendant or may vary the conviction and find the defendant guilty of a lesser offence
- Sentence may be confirmed, increased (only to magistrates' maximum) or decrease
- Out of about 12000 appeals, half have some success
Defence appeals by way of case stated to the Queen's Bench Divisional Court against conviction on a point of law
- case stated = the facts are agreed beforehand and give as a statement to the court. The case is no re-heard in full
- May be either directly from the Magistrates' Court or following appeal to the Crown Court
- Only available for an appeal against conviction
- Court may confirm, vary or reverse the decision or send the case back to the Magistrates' Court for them to apply the interpretation of the law
- Only about 100 per year - an example is C V DPP (1996)
Prosecution appeal to the QBD against acquittal on a point of law only
- it is a case stated appeal
- QBD can quash the decision, confirm it or send it back to the Magistrates for a re-hearing
Further appeal to the Supreme Court (House of Lords)
- Both the defence and prosecution can appeal further to the Supreme Court (from QBD) on a point of law of general public importance
- Permission (leave) must be granted by the Supreme Court or Queen's Bench Division - it is rarely used.
Appeal routes from the Crown Court
- Appeals to the Court of Appeal
- Challenges by the prosecution
- Appeals to the Supreme Court
Appeals to the Court of Appeal
- Defendant may appeal against conviction, sentence or both to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). Leave to appeal must be granted either by the trial judge or from the Court of Appeal itself
- Only ground for allowing an appeal against conviction is that the conviction is unsafe and the Court of Appeal may order a retrial or quash the conviction if it allows the defendant's appeal
- When hearing an appeal, the Court of Appeal may admit new evidence in the interests of justice
- The criminal Cases Review Commission may refer cases back to the Court of Appeal after all routes of appeal have been exhausted if there is evidence of a miscarriage if justice
Challenges by the prosecution
- the prosecution may ask the Attorney-General to seek leave from the Court of Appeal to consider an unduly lenient sentence
- The Attorney-General may refer a point of law to the Court of Appeal if the prosecution is concerned about an acquittal - this will merely settle the law on that point. It will not affect the accquittal
- if there is evidence of jury tampering, the prosecution may apply to the High Court for the acquittal to be set aside and a retrial ordered
- The criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished the double jeopardy rule so that the Director of Public Prosecution may apply to the Court of Appeal to overturn an acquittal and order a retrial if there is new and compelling evidence
- The prosecution may appeal against a ruling on law made by a judge in a Crown Court trial
Appeals to the Supreme Court
- Both the prosecution and the defence have the right to appeal from the Court of Appeal (criminal Division) to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal has to certify that it involves a point of law of public importance and either Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court must give permission to appeal
- Very few cases are appealed to the Supreme Court.